Darrick Doerner’s Twelve Ocean Safety Tips
Surf Safety Advice for Surfers of all Levels and Abilities
Spend time watching the waves and conditions before paddling out to a surf spot. Wait at least fifteen minutes to see how big the waves are. Otherwise, you may be deceived by a lull between sets into thinking that the waves are smaller than they actually are.
Always look for warning signs posted by the lifeguards. “No Swimming” means you could get swept out to sea. “Dangerous Shorebreak” means you could break your neck by bodysurfing the shorebreak. Talk to the lifeguards about the surf conditions and dangers, as they may vary from day to day and even hour to hour. Ask a lot of questions. They will give you the answers you will need to stay safe.
Learn the areas where you surf. Go with people who know the spot and ask the following:
- Where to paddle out and where to paddle in? You don’t want to paddle in on dry reef or wash up on the rocks.
- How do the tides affect the surf spot? Understand how the waves change and whether it gets dangerously shallow at low tide.
- Which swell directions work best for the surf spot?
- Which way does the current go?
- What are the dangers of that particular surf spot (e.g., rocks, piers, jetties, shorebreaks, jellyfish, etc.)?
When surfing at any surf spot, envision the worst case scenario. For instance, prepare a mental plan for swimming into shore if you break your leash or snap your surfboard. Don’t paddle out into conditions that you can’t handle.
Learn to recognize rip tides. If you get stuck in a rip tide, swim perpendicular to its flow to get out of it and then swim towards shore. Never try to fight a rip tide.
Try not to fall or jump off of your board, as it could spear someone or bounce back and hit you. Ride the wave as long as you can and then kick out and lay back down on your board. If you do need to jump off, fall backwards so that the whitewash will push your board towards shore (and away from you).
Use the “starfish” if you fall off of your surfboard on a reef break. This means falling flat on your back with arms and legs spread out, to minimize the chance of hitting the reef. Don’t kick off the bottom to get to the surface as you will cut your feet. Wait until the turbulence stops and use your arms to swim to the surface.
Depending on the surf spot, know when to kick out of a wave so that you don’t end up in an extremely shallow area. Be careful with wave selection for the same reason, i.e., don’t take off on close-outs where you will end up getting caught inside in a shallow area.
Beach breaks (sand bottom) are relatively safe. They are good for beginner and intermediate surfers and fun for all ages. Reef breaks (coral and rock bottom) are great wave providers but create dangerous conditions. They are for intermediate to pro surfers and require more advanced skills.
Larger waves create strong currents which are more dangerous if you are not aware of them. Smaller waves create less current and are easier to ride, but be prepared to deal with more people and inexperienced and/or dangerous surfers in the line-up.
Be aware of the people in the line-up. Never paddle into a wave if you risk running someone over. As much as you may not want to “waste” the wave, it is not worth it. There will always be another wave. Avoid ditching your board if a wave breaks in front of you. If you have to ditch your board, always look behind you to make sure there’s nobody behind you.
Don’t surf alone, especially if a surf spot is really far out. Know your limits. When in doubt don’t go out. When it comes to the ocean, it is always better to be safe than sorry. Never turn your back on the ocean, always respect its power, and learn from its signs.